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Making sense of Bengals’ bye week roster moves

The Bengals made an odd decision to part ways with Chris Lewis-Harris instead of Chykie Brown. Is there a bigger plan in place?

NFL: Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Like me, you were probably wondering Thursday why the Bengals chose to waive Chris Lewis-Harris instead of cutting Chykie Brown.

The move was made in order to make room to sign defensive end Wallace Gilberry, who gives some much-needed depth to a struggling defensive line. And while Gilberry is mainly a defensive end, his biggest impact may actually come as a defensive tackle on passing downs.

That’s an area the Bengals have gotten very little production from this year next to Geno Atkins. Even with Atkins playing at his All-Pro level, there hasn’t been any support from that other tackle spot on passing downs, whether it’s Domata Peko, Pat Sims, or even Margus Hunt and Will Clarke on occasion.

That’s not to say Gilberry will be much, if any upgrade over those three, but it helps to have another body there if nothing else. While Gilberry’s best days are behind him, he offers a depth at two positions.

And for the most part, both Brown and Lewis-Harris have been just bodies at a deep cornerback position that had seven guys before the latter was cut. So it’s easy to see why a corner was cut to make room for a defensive lineman.

What seemed odd was why the Bengals cut Lewis-Harris instead of Brown. After all, Brown has only appeared in two games this season while making one tackle. Lewis-Harris has appeared in seven games while making four tackles, two pass deflections and one interception.

On top of that, Lewis-Harris has been with the Bengals since his rookie season when he was signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2012 NFL draft. He has spent time on the practice squad and roster, but has always managed to stick around since arriving in the Queen City. Brown was drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens and spent three and a half seasons with them before being cut mid-season and joining the Giants. Brown was not on an NFL team for 2015, and joined the Bengals in the 2016 offseason.

But if you watched both players in the preseason, it was easy to see why the Bengals may have thought Brown was just a little better than Lewis-Harris. Brown rebounded from a terrible start in the preseason to have some good showings in the exhibition games, more than anything we saw from Lewis-Harris, though he wasn’t too shabby either.

It also can’t be overlooked that Lewis-Harris has very rarely seen the field, especially in anything outside of a special teams role in 26 career games (zero starts). Brown, for all of his issues, has appeared in 56 career games (six starts).

If one of those two needs to be the fourth or even third corner in this defense, Brown is the guy who has had the bullets flying out him far more than Lewis-Harris has, and may ever have in his pro career.

But then why do the Bengals make Lewis-Harris active and Brown inactive most games?

Simple, Lewis-Harris has been with this team since 2012. Brown has been here since February of this year. He may be an NFL veteran, but he’s still learning this defense and special teams assignments, two things Lewis-Harris knows like the back of his hand.

My guess is the Bengals now feel comfortable with Brown taking over Lewis-Harris’ role as the fifth/sixth corner on gamedays in addition to his special teams duties. He’ll be able to acclimate himself into those roles more over the bye week with Lewis-Harris now out of the picture.

Another reason why the Bengals went ahead and waived Lewis-Harris was just that...he has to go through waivers. Brown is a vested veteran and can be cut and re-signed without clearing waivers. Instead of waiting for Lewis-Harris to clear waivers while another team may claim him, the Bengals would apparently rather keep Brown for now, knowing that if they need to part with him to make roster moves, they can do so and eventually bring him back.

That’s going to be key in the coming weeks when the Bengals may be shuffling their roster in a variety of ways. Brandon Thompson could come off PUP anytime and either William Jackson or Cedric Peerman could come off I.R.

So when those moves come, the Bengals can cut Brown, if they want. The Bengals were likely going to lose Brown and/or Lewis-Harris with the roster moves about to be made from the injury lists. They chose to cut Lewis-Harris now because, in the long run, they probably view him as the unlikelier of the two players to be back at a later point this year.

So if they had cut Brown and then Lewis-Harris in the coming weeks, they may have ended up in a spot where they needed to re-sign one of them, but, seen both with other teams.

By waiving Lewis-Harris now and accepting he’s gone, Cincinnati can keep Brown for at least a few more weeks, shortening the possible time-frame between when he would be cut and re-signed by another time, thus increasing their chances of re-signing him, if needed, down the line.

At the end of the day, the Bengals made a decision to cut a reserve corner. It’s not going to make or break their season, but it is interesting to debate and consider what goes into the decision making for how the roster is managed and what the Bengals may be thinking when making decisions we view as odd, to say the least.

This was one of those odd moves, but it may prove to be a smart one in the long run.